Saturday, February 28, 2009

milwaukee props: beer and cheese

While I agree that it's important for Milwaukee to position itself as MORE than just beer and cheese, I think it's equally as crucial for the city to highlight just how FANTASTIC its beer and cheese is. Especially since a California drought should help us regain our America's Dairyland title back from those obnoxious Happy Cows.

My activities on Thursday and Friday evening reminded me just how well-positioned Milwaukee is to stay ahead and hip as a cultural center for the beer, booze and cheese.

On Thursday I headed to the Milwaukee Public Market with my pals Larissa, Cynthia, Nora and Jim for the second annual Moo & Brew event, this year renamed "Moodi Gras" (and the reason I did not give up artisan cheese for Lent).

This was one of my favorite events in 2008 and I definitely give the 2009 version "two thumbs up," even if it was slightly scaled back from last year (stupid economy).

The event is pretty much heaven for beer and cheese lovers. And it also raises money for Hunger Task Force, so you can feel good about all the calories you consume. This year they worked to pair up the beer with complimentary cheeses, so it really was a party in your mouth.

We started at the Ale Asylum table. This brew out of Madison has been showing up at a lot of events lately. We sampled the Ambergeddon (best beer name EVER) and the Hopalicious. I preferred the former based on taste, name and badass logo. By the end of the night I was tempted to get it tattooed on my upper arm. Maybe it was because somehow I ended up with a whole bottle of it.

Next up was a sampling from Castle Rock Organic Farms out of Osseo, Wisconsin. They had two blue cheeses--regular and smokey--both cave aged (Lars was enamored that they had their own cave). The smokey was definitely a unique flavor and I'd be curious to experiment with it a bit more.


At the same table was a Roth Kase selection of Grand Cru Gruyere (yummy and I bet even yummier in fondue) and Solé Gran Queso (which the sales rep unfortunately called "Kway-soh"). I believe my favorite cheese, the Ostenbørg Chive and Horseradish Havarti was also at this table. I was too busy scarfing it to take a photo apparently.

Ready to wash these selections down, we headed over to the Great Lakes Brewing table. Out of Cleveland, these guys were sampling their Burning River Pale Ale and their Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. I've tried both before and both are excellent. The porter is extremely drinkable, and as Nora said would be perfect for a summer barbecue. Ah, summer.

Time for more cheese, and with a celebrity cheesemaker no less (okay, not really, but I did read about Marieke Penterman on a cheese blog). Hollands Family Farm from Thorp, Wisconsin makes several kinds of gouda and sampled three: regular, cumin and herb. All delicious, but the cumin was quite unique and would be a nice addition to a cheese party.

Next up, everyone's favorite local champ, Lakefront Brewery to wash down those flavors. Appropriately for the theme they sampled their seasonal Big Easy, as well as their Bock. In all my years as a Lakefront drinker I don't believe I've sampled the Bock, and I can't say that I was disappointed.

A truckload of cheeses followed, from Carr Valley Cheese in LaValle, Wisconsin. They experiment with a lot of cow, goat and sheep combos and produce some smashing results. We tried the Cranberry Chipotle Cheddar (spicy!), Apple Smoked Garlic Cheddar, Benedictine, Menage, Creama Kasa, and Gran Canaria. Many of Carr Valley's cheese have racked up awards and accolades and the cheese coma that followed proved it.

Luckily we hit a looooong line before the next stop and allowed the cheese to digest a bit.

We found out the reason for the long line was the chatty Furthermore rep, who remembered me from last year and my looooooooove of Fatty Boombalatty. I'll admit this Spring Green, Wisconsin brewery's Knot Stock, with its cracked pepper taste, did go better with the accompanying cheese, but man, I love me some Fatty.

He also teased me with an unopened bottle of their brand new Thermo Refur beer made with organic beets and black pepper. Sounds wild and amazing and is rumored to be at Comet now, but will be in liquor stores next week. Dying to find some!

Appropriately my favorite microbrew discovery from the '08 Moo & Brew was paired with my favorite cheesemaker discovery from last year. Sartori cheese was up next sampling three kinds of their totally original BellaVitano cheese -- Black Pepper, Raspberry and Gold. The Black Pepper and Knot Stock created a flavor explosion, however, the final sampling of their Rosemary & Olive Oil Asiago was my "I need a block of this" cheese of the table.

Wrapping up the beer sampling was Unibroue, which granted is out of Quebec, but still a fave amongst us Wisconsinites. They were only sampling two of their many beers this year -- the Ephemere and Maudite. I jumped on the opportunity to have the appletastic Ephemere as I rarely find it while out and about.

The final cheese of the night came from Saxon Creamery in Cleveland, Wisconsin. We tried Pastures, Big Eds and Green Pastures -- all very original flavors. I think the latter was my fave out of this group. Jerry from Saxon had a really great story too of learning farming techniques from his late father-in-law Big Ed when he decided to become a cheesemaker.

I did miss the cooking demonstration and cheese book signing they had last year, as well as the inclusion of Madison's Potter's Crackers. The crowd was a bit more diverse this year, with the addition of suburbanites and weird girls with matching tights.

Hopefully the Public Market will capitalize this on this sold out event and make it more than an annual thing. Barring that though, see you next year!


  1. I wanted to let you know that not even 24 hours after I left the event, I returned to the Public Market and purchased a wedge of Big Ed's from Saxon Creamery. Interestingly enough, the Creamery is right down the road from the Miller family, of which I know several children. Yay NE WI.

  2. I just bought a block of the rosemary & olive oil yesterday at Sprecher. They have a beer & cheese reserve tasting where you get to sample 16 beers with 16 cheeses. The rosemary & olive oil was my must have as well. And we got to sample the new Furtermore at the the Mid-winter Brew Festival at the Ale House last weekend. Thumbs up.


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